When I first suggested to Jonathan Vaughters that spending a day with the team soigneurs would make a good article, his reply started: “You brave man!”
I cleared it with Slipstream’s director of communications and fix-it supremo Marya and she replied: “You are a brave man!”
Now, either these two know a darned sight more than me about the art of ‘swannying’ – pretty likely, let’s face it – or I have totally underestimated what goes on here.
After all, what is so difficult about filling a few bottles, handing up a bag and rubbing a few sore legs at the end of the day? Call that hard work?
Anyway, instead of the initial idea of doing one of the smaller races such as the Dauphine, Slipstream have – much to my amazement – agreed to let me loose on the boys during Saturday’s stage to St Girons.
So should reports come through of a bizarre incident involving David Millar and a musette in the face, or Bradley Wiggins kicking the crap out of somebody in a hotel hallway, you’ll know things have not gone according to plan.
Brave? Not a bit of it. Foolish? Now, that’s a different matter.
WHEN THEY WERE UP…
From the throngs of Barcelona to the sparsely populated slopes of Andorra in one day. Tour organisers had to be disappointed with the turnout on Arcalis, especially at the finish. But these mountain-top finishes are a big commitment for the humble roadside supporter, especially when the road ends at the summit like at Arcalis. Drivers are obliged to stay in place hours after the race has finished while the entire Tour entourage gets down the mountain. Most fans seemed to have weighed up the pros and cons and decided against climbing the final five kilometres, leading to a strange, ghost town feeling at the summit.
You had to admire the staying power of those that did make the climb as the gendarme-enforced evacuation of all race-related vehicles got underway and they resigned themselves to a very long wait before having any chance of moving. Cycling fans really are a special breed.
We confess that, due to one thing and another, it was rather late by the time we pulled out of Barcelona headed for Arcalis. It was looking touch and go whether getting ahead of the race before the roads were closed to all traffic was going happen.
So the motorcycle cop blocking the road some 30 kilometres from the finish looked like bad news for CW and its trusty Skoda. But the nice policeman takes one look at the magic blue press sticker on the windscreen and waves us through onto a gloriously empty road.
And the whole way we drove expecting to be turfed off the route at any given moment, only to be waved through at every point, including the final section of climb right up to the finish line.
If you have never driven up a mountain seemingly cleared just for you, and with a roadside crowd waving and cheering your passing, let me tell you it is a spooky feeling, but one that brought out the goosebumps. Great fun.